Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands
McClelland & Stewart | Toronto, ON
2010 | 272 pp
Ezra Levant’s Ethical Oil attempts to underscore the numerous reasons why oil sands oil outshines its global competition to be the most morally and environmentally sound source of global oil. Oddly, Levant doesn’t detail why oil from Alberta is ‘ethical’ per se, so much as he details why oil from OPEC nations are more unethical, contrary to his subtitle.
Levant believes the deck is stacked against oil sands producers when morality is questioned. “Is it possible that Canada’s approach to energy is…measured by an entirely different yardstick,” he ponders, “an unconventional version of ‘morality’ that weighs values entirely differently?”
Perhaps. Many do bristle at the thought of continued oil sands development. But rather than explain why tar sands oil is ethical, Levant walks backwards towards his central theme, which is this: oil from nations like Saudi Arabia or Nigeria is so overwhelmingly unethical (in terms of environmental impacts, climate-related shipping, treatment of workers, etc.) that oil from democratic, human rights observing Canada must, ipso facto, be more ethical.
Levant maintains that oil production and consumption do not exist in a vacuum: environmental and social contexts are key considerations, and in this he is correct. “Despite the pipe dreams of environmentalists,” he claims, “our carbon-based economy isn’t going away.” One cannot reasonably have a discussion about the ethics of oil sands oil without considering global alternatives.
But he extrapolates this flawed logic to suit a narrow aim of making oil sands oil increasingly marketable. “So we’re stuck with oil for a long time,” he argues: “the only question that remains is: if we have to produce oil, and we have to buy oil – and we absolutely must do both – whose oil should we…support?”
This is a shaky premise upon which to base the argument that the global economy will and cannot limit dependence on fossil fuels — let alone the notion that because Canada has proven oil reserves their extraction is somehow a moral obligation.
It’s subjective opinion trumped up as objective truth, skipping a crucial consideration — that any decision made on the presumption that our dependence on fossil fuels cannot be lessened is flawed.
Levant believes that most environmentalists argue against oil in favour of a “miracle” fuel that, as yet, does not exist — and that until such a fuel is available, “the question is whether we should use oil from the oil sands or oil from the other places in the world.” His not-so-subtle interspersion of overt nationalism into debate over the environment and our energy future wrongly conflates one with the other: the choice, he posits, is between ethical Canadian oil and a flourishing Canadian economy, or propping up a human-rights abusing theocracy.
But even accepting that tar sands oil is more ethical than oil from Saudi Arabia, for example, Levant’s is a misleading and specious argument. Nevertheless, Ethical Oil has changed the discussion of oil production in Canada, and cannot be ignored.